United we scam – how not to fight scourge of corruption in India

By Rekha Bhattacharjee

Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today” – Mahatma Gandhi

The great Indian freedom fighter and apostle of non-violence made this observation more than six decades back. If Mahatma Gandhi returns to his ‘karma-bhoomi’ today, he may die another untimely death out of shock over the magnitude of corruption for which some members of his beloved Congress Party are directly responsible.

As social commentators have been pointing out regularly, the disenfranchised poor living in India’s remote tribal and underdeveloped regions, are being excluded from reaping the benefits offered by the growing Indian economy. The fallout of this exclusion gets manifested in movements like Naxalism, Maoism, etc.

The fact that insurgencies led by leftist extremists are spreading over large ‘backward’ regions is an evidence of growing anger felt by India’s poor over being excluded from what is largely an Indian metropolitan growth phenomenon. The fact that select few are pocketing billion of dollars through entrepreneurship and corruption is not going down very well with a large number of the Indian population for obvious reasons.

The anger and frustration of the burgeoning city-dwelling lower middle class over all-prevailing, stifling corruption gets manifested in the so-called civil society movements like one led by Anna Hazare and yoga tele-evangelist Baba Ramdev.

The colourful and vociferous anti-graft campaign by Baba Ramdev has attracted government’s wrath as yoga guru is being increasingly cornered over his business empire based on Ayurveda medicine and real estate purchased to set-up Patanjali Yogpeeth centres.

Even some left-wing publications have deplored the Indian government actions to ‘humiliate’ the new saffron hope Baba Ramdev. The yoga guru, who has done immense work to improve the health and lifestyle of millions of Indians, could be accused of nothing much but waging a campaign to eradicate corruption in India.

Besides reining in the corrupt in India, Baba Ramdev and Co had made an interesting demand to ‘nationalise’ all the black money to whomsoever it may belong and where ever it has been siphoned to.

According to the data provided by just the Swiss banks, India has more black money locked in the Swiss vaults than rest of the world combined! India tops the dubious list with almost $1500 Billion ($1.5 trillion) black money in Swiss banks followed by Russia $470 Billion, UK $390 Billion, Ukraine $100 Billion and China with $96 Billion.

To make a casual comparison, the total value of deposits in Indian banks in 2008-09 was around $850 billion, total foreign currency and gold reserves were around $285 billion (31 December, 2010 est.), foreign debts were valued at around $237 billion (31 December, 2010 est.), imports were around $327 billion (2010 est.), etc.

The magnitude of the ‘stolen’ Indian money deposited in Swiss banks could also be gauged from the fact that the total size of the Indian economy or Gross Domestic Production (GDP) valued at only $4.06 trillion according to a 2010 estimate by CIA.

The ruthless targeting of Baba Ramdev and, now, Anna Hazare reflect the inadequacies of a rattled regime deeply-embroiled in mega scams trying to protect its luminaries from exposure. A number of such corrupt politicians and fund-raisers allegedly have secret bank accounts in Switzerland and other safe heavens.

There are all indications that the ruling coalition would bludgeon above-mentioned ‘civil-society’ campaigns against corruption with Digvijay-esque stealth and high handedness. But similar movements are bound to crop up to ask some difficult questions over the involvement of the ruling elite in perpetuating the spectre of corruption.

In 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that corruption is the single greatest threat to the nation’s economic prospects.

In a speech given to an anti-corruption forum in New Delhi, Mr Singh described the damaging effect that bribes, extortion and fraud have on all levels of life in India.

He said that graft meant infrastructure projects were late, over-budget, and often poor quality, while labelling India’s opaque business practices ‘a fertile breeding ground for the evil of corruption’.

“The pervasive corruption in our country tarnishes our image [and it] discourages investors who expect fair treatment and transparent dealings with public authorities,” he said.

Today the involvement of various components of the ruling coalition in mega-corruption cases like the sale of the 2G spectrum and the organization of the Commonwealth Games has pushed the bar for the corrupt regimes world over much higher.

The sheer scale of the corruption by some members of Congress and allies is of course unfathomable as figures quoted by the anti-corruption campaigners are too complex for the untrained minds. According to an estimate, the 2G spectrum was allegedly undersold by the concerned Ministry to the tune of approximately 40 billion dollars.

The fact that competitive bidding was not allowed in the sale of the second generation (2G) mobile phone licences make this government revenue making exercise look even murkier.

An appointee for the office of Chief Vigilance Commissioner himself faced charges of alleged offences. What could be more ironical as the watchdog was himself alleged to be the subject of a corruption investigation?

The much-publicised jailing of the Communications Minister A. Raja and Suresh Kalmadi have helped Congress salvage some credibility but it would be long way to redeem itself from the quagmire named corruption.

In spite of steps taken by Manmohan Singh and others may be commendable to some extent but they have not done much to stop corruption from spreading its tentacles. The scale of burgeoning corruption scandals in India is simply enormous. As a Financial Times editorial had pointed out late last year: ‘Even in a country on first name terms with corruption, the scale of the scandal engulfing Indian politics is staggering’.

India’s Opposition may have managed to paralyse the Indian Parliament for days demanding all-party inquiry panel, but they are themselves embroiled in a number of corruption scandals to cast stones on Congress and allies.

What the ruling party has failed to realize is that the impact of the corruption would not only disenfranchise the Indian poor and get reflected on the polling day but also the economy itself.

It is also a failure of the Indian planning bodies to highlight the debilitating implications of the corruption on the Indian economy.

In the campaign to elevate the status of the Indian poor, those overseeing the acceleration of the South Asian economy, need to do much more to combat the scourge of graft.

The Congress led coalition is fast running out of options and time. It is high time the members of the oldest & largest party – should seize the chance to tackle corruption head on or face the consequences when the disenfranchised manage to grab reins of the political power.

If that happens even in distant future, and if it happens without shedding blood even of the corrupt, the soul most content would be that of the global mascot of righteousness – Mahatma Gandhi.

 

 

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Posted by on Jul 22 2011. Filed under Community, Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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